According to reporters from the New York Times, who interviewed a number of nearby business owners, neighborhood residents, and witnesses, Vassell was an active member of the local community, whose struggles with mental illness were well known to both residents and police.
“Every cop in this neighborhood knows him,” John Fuller, 59, a Crown Heights resident told the Times.
Less than a month before Vassell’s untimely death, police fired twenty shots at Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man holding a cell phone in the backyard of his parents’ home in Sacramento, California. While mass shootings like the recent tragedy in Parkland spark national marches and legislative lobbying, police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men are almost always acquitted of any criminal charges.
“These incidents are still occurring, and the obvious thing to say is that there is still work to do,” Yale Law professor Tracey Meares, who served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said in an interview with NPR.
In Brooklyn, protests have continued at the corner where Vassell was killed for the past two days. On an institutional level, there have been no indications from the NYPD that the latest officer-involved shooting will change the way the department uses deadly force. According to police officials, none of the officers involved in Wednesday’s shooting were wearing active body cameras.